Viacom18 Motion Pictures turned EBITDA positive last year according to Ajit Andhare, COO. The 80-films old company, which celebrated its five years recently with landmark movies like ‘Tanu Weds Manu’, ‘Kahaani’ and ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ has set itself apart by breaking the norms of storytelling in Bollywood. It commercially released films like ‘Manjhi’ and ‘Margarita with a Straw’ and even ventured into regional markets like Marathi, Bengali and South Indian languages. For this year the production house has lined up ‘Budhia Singh’, ‘Force 2′, ‘Rangoon’, ‘Rahasya’, which is being developing as a franchise, and ‘The House Next Door.’ In regional it’s producing ‘Dhoomketu’ (Bengali), ‘Photocopy’ (Marathi) and ‘Waras’ (Marathi).
Andhare shares his insights over learning in the last five years, future projects, brand placements, digital marketing strategy and more.
What kind of movie genres are preferred by audiences these days?
Good cinema is being watched not by niche but by mainstream audience. That’s been our business hypothesis. There’s market for franchises like ‘Housefull’ as well as a serious films like ‘Kapoor and Sons’. So you can safely say that there is growth as well as a lot of segmentation in the market. So you can tell a number of different stories which earlier may not have been possible to tell at a commercial scale. Can you imagine film like ‘Margarita With a Straw’ which is so progressive to release commercially few years back? We have seen commercial scale acceptance of the film. More recently ‘Airlift’ has got a staggering numbers. Clearly segments of different kinds of film are growing. It’s a very exciting time in Hindi cinema.
Can you share the insights on the investments over the last five years?
What has changed and evolved over the last five years is the confidence to undertake larger projects of above Rs 50-60 crore in terms of cost of production. If a film inspires confidence I don’t think there is anything holding us back. These five years has given us a tremendous amount of self belief and confidence in producing films which possibly we wouldn’t have shot in the very first year. Take a film like ‘Rangoon’, a large scale film shot out of Arunanchal Pradesh backed by strong content and story at the heart of it.
When it comes to digital how much percentage of share has increased in these 5 years?
It’s too early to talk about that. It needs a year’s time for the market to firm up because digital deals are beginning to happen. Netflix and Amazon are here. We will be able to talk in more concrete terms of percentages when it evolves. Satellite and box office remain the dominant revenue platforms. But to give you a context digital could go as high as 10% of satellite price of the film.
What are the movie projects that you are coming out with?
We are undertaking diverse subjects. We are doing a virtual reality film- it’s a first for us- for which we have collaborated with Siddharth. It’s a horror film. We are also looking at interesting sub segments which offer opportunity. For example we will be rolling out ‘Rahasya 2’ and ‘Rahasya 3,’ of ‘Rahasya’, a crime-series franchise which is loosely based out of several recent widely-talked-about-unsolved crimes with political overtone. They make for great material. Then ‘Motu Patlu’ is going to come to the big screen. There is a film in early stages development, inspired from the life of famous Indian astronaut. So there is lot of creativity and innovation at play.
How is your animation film different from the rest?
I think it’s a question of traction. On television we have already seen a lot of traction for ‘Motu Patlu’. Now the step is to take it to theatrical. It’s a question of relevant innovation in the market. Kids love that character. ‘Hanuman’ did significant numbers when it was released. It has got relevant interest value to offer.
What’s in store when it comes to Hollywood movie distribution?
We have some of the best Hollywood movies coming in like ‘Baywatch,’ and ‘XXX: The Return of Xander Cage’. Then there are other films like ‘Ben Hurr’, ‘Star Trek’, ‘Jack Reacher’ ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘Transformers’ spin offs. There is a strong pipeline of Hollywood movies already that will complement our Hindi and regional content. Together we will be playing the full market.
How do you see branding evolve in your films in both Hindi and regional market?
I think that has been a constant effort. It’s going to grow and become more synergistic. It will happen at a very early stage of development. For example, in certain Marathi films we are talking to certain brands where they are partners in a significant way more than placement. Virtually they are the co-producers in the film.
Merchandising is going to be important in the kid’s space. We already do a significant merchandising in the television kid’s space. The question is how do you leverage that in films? More than that I think it’s about co-branding. Films can reduce their marketing expenses significantly with proper brand alliances. Certain kinds of films like ‘Mary Kom’ and ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ lend themselves to lot of brand tie-ups which allows a lot of multiplier in terms of marketing that you do on them. That’s something we are very strong at and continue to push on that.
How will digital marketing get more important for Viacom18?
It’s going to be more important. Today word-of-mouth is the most important currency for the filmmaker. You may have deployed a lot of investment to get people to the theatre. But what are they saying post that? Is it getting marketed or not on digital medium? Right now we are doing a lot of activities, using social media actively; monitoring the chatter on our films on how significant is the share of voice and attention they are generating.
When it comes to OTT players it’s a question of who is offering what and how you take it from there. For films going through the film route and getting a good value it certainly becomes an interesting option to explore. This is because over here the consumer is in charge. If the OTT player is not going to monetize the film then it’s of no great value.
What are Viacom18 Motion Pictures’ future investments?
We are looking to collaborate with independent studios for co-investing and co-creating films. That’s one area we are working on. It’s too early to name them. If there are some big ticket films can we collaborate with people and try and manage the risk much better? That’s another area we are looking at. At the same time there’s no problem in terms of capital deployment because as long as the film is well founded, appropriately cost and good visibility to revenues we can take up larger projects as well.
Where do you see Viacom18 Motion Pictures five years from now?
We should continue to innovate, break the norms and continue to sustain that at the same time. We are looking for a strong regional footprint because some of the opportunities are big in the regional cinema. We would love to make the next ‘Sairat’ for instance. Third is an attempt to develop Hollywood beyond tent pole. These are some of the future challenges.